Interview to Agnaldo Farias
Interview from April 6 to 7, 2006, published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition Mostra Daniel Senise 2000-2006 at Museu Oscar Niemeyer, in Curitiba, 2006.
A: A few days ago I was asking you where your ideas come from. You said firstly that this was difficult to answer, adding that, more than a problem of painting, the images always seemed to be something essential.
D: Yes. It’s because I always liked looking at images. To start with, I learnt about art through reproductions. I always liked things that weren’t classified as art. And when I started painting, when I started dealing more consciously with the problems related to the pictorial process, painting started to mediate my contact with images. So my question was, “Why did I have to do that with painting? Where was the relevance of thinking of images through paintings?” That was right at the start, when I painted with paint and brushes.
A: That was in the ‘80s, right? How old were you?
A: So it was before the ‘80s?
D: Yes. I started before. At that time I was already starting to see painting as something mutable. Today I see it even broader, I mean, the language of painting isn’t fixed to the brush and the paint. I think the only irreducible feature of painting is that it’s a surface, which can be flat, but doesn’t need to be. And of course it depends on you, how you understand its limits, after all, it can all vary enormously. I started with a fairly expressionistic way of painting as a way of thinking about images, to start to see what interested me. But you could say I didn’t do this fully consciously.
A: And why did you start there, on the expressionist route?
D: Maybe because that`s what a lot of people was doing.
A: Who? Lecturers, artists and colleagues at the School of Visual Arts [Parque Lage], the artists you were interested in?
D: Mainly the School of Visual Arts. I looked out a lot, to the international scene, and there was a very big wave of painting. It was a time when publications were arriving quickly and an artist could do an exhibition abroad and the following month those images were already available for us. I think that’s natural. You’re contemporary in the sense that you are aware of the work you are looking at.
A: When did you decide to take the plunge and take up art professionally? You were doing engineering, weren’t you?
D: When I left, when I finished engineering, I went to work with things that wouldn’t disturb painting.
A: So you already had that awareness?
D: I wasn’t completely aware, but the day I started studying painting, when I was about 24 or 25, I saw that I’d found myself a problem. I thought. “Now how am I going to resolve this?”
A: And did you already have a studio?
D: The classes at Parque Lage worked as a time of passage, a pretext for me to find some people and arrange a studio immediately.
A: Who were the others?
D: Firstly, [Luis] Pizarro, João Magalhães, and there was someone else whose name I can’t remember now. Then Ângelo [Venosa] Joined and there was me, Pizarro. Angelo and João Magalhães.
A: The studio was here [Lapa]?
D: No, in the beginning it was at a house in Botafogo. At that time I was working at the Banco Nacional and went to Sao Paulo each week. I did the Video Texto project at the Banco Nacional. And as I was trained in engineering and liked images, because I used to draw, I even did cartoons in papers, l got myself a job coordinating the graphical part of Video Texto, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was work for six hours a day, and the rest of the time I was In the studio. Well, on one of those trips to Sao Paulo, in I983, I went to the Biennial and was very impressed by the work of [Markus] Lüpertz. It all happened very quickly. Previously it was a very fleeting thing: three weeks with Francis Bacon, a month with David Hockney… lots of Peoples, but withLüpertz I managed to organise things better, a more consistent way of working with painting,with media thatI could master quickly and then start developing my work, thinking about images throughthoseelements. I created a simple painting for me, with expressionist, or neo-expressionist characteristics, because Lupertz is not really neo—expressionist. The neo-expressionists were younger guys like Salomé and Rainer Fetting. Lüpertz was more complex. I created a simple vocabulary lor myself in terms of colour and handling, using acrylic paint that dries quicker and doesn’t mix as much as oil.
A: And when you noticed Lüpertz’s work, did more people notice it? Did the impact of this discovery enter your work soon after you came back to Rio?
D: ln fact I was very impressed when I looked at Lüpertz. More than anything else, he seemed ideal for me. He was no more acclaimed at the time than Francesco Clemente or Anselm Keifer but he seemed closer to what I wanted. I didn’t know much about painting at that time, but I had a great desire to carry on with it, so that when I saw Lüpertz I tried to translate him into my painting. What I did was this: I took a theme, for example the penguin on my fridge, and I painted with this image in my mind of “the style” of Lüpertz, which deep down, was more my style. That’s because what came out of course wasn’t a Lüpertz, but something of mine. And obviously it was very immediate painting, without the sophistication of Liiper1z’s painting; acrylic paint that dried very quickly the paint I used was a mixture of pigments with a base of industrial acrylic, simpler than oil. When I added oil paint a bit later it all got a bit more complicated. I was dealing with pictorial problems, proper to the actual process of painting, of composition,colour balance. So, I was making a painting.
A: Were you clear about those ideas?
D: It was all a bit Intuitive. I liked it in the way I like looking at images; I like thinking about them.
A: Critically. Did you look at them with a critical eye?
D: Yes. But there`s always a personal choice. Something can interest you or not, for example, an image that’s wrong can be pleasing. Because it’s got an incompleteness, something that makes you want to assemble it in your head. Perhaps at the start this had given me the idea that the picture is formed in the head of the spectator; in my head. I wanted to disorganize my urge. l’m very organized. When I was painting, it was determined by the desire for a final thing, an image. Coming to painting was always stimulated by an image, an object or an impression left by something. Once I did Saint Anthony, another time it was a footballer kicking a ball. In a way it was as if those objects and images always touched me. For example, I had the penguin colours on my fridge, colours that I started to use, like black, white and red, something almost heraldic, which is something Germanic also, and a bit of blue. This all worked very well for me. In six months I went from confusion to being someone with something to say. It was very much like that: one day we were in the studio when we heard a friend had been selected for the National Salon. and won a prize. Angelo and I went to the cinema, annoyed.
A: Who was the friend?
D: Pizarro. But no, It was a bit different. Pizarro had got into the Salon and we hadn’t. In the middle of the film, I turned to Angelo and said, “That guy’s going to win the prize.”
A: And did he?
D: He did. And then Lüpertz came along to organize me.
A: Lüpertz came after that?
D: Yes. But it was all very quick. As I said. I saw Lüpertz at the Sao Paulo Biennial in ’83. And in ’85 I was the one in the Biennial.
A: And when you saw Lüpertz. the people from Casa 7 also saw him and…
D: But they saw [Phillip] Guston first didn’t they?
A: In 81. But it wasn’t the only thing they saw.
D: But they were using oil paint, a more oily stuff.
A: That’s right, it was more oily.
D: And João Manuel [Satamini, owner of the Subdstrito gallery in Sao Paulo] said, “the people at Casa 7 say you don’t know how to paint with oils.” Soon after that I moved to the studio here on d other side of the road.
A: But who did know?
D: But it was annoying. When we met each other it was that thing of one group in one corner and another group in the other. And João was in the middle. That was when we were in the house on the other side of the road. And then I started using oil, which made it even more complicated. This was after the ’85 Biennial. I got into the Biennial and it was all very quick. I won a prize, two prizes, some prizes with those paintings and I thought: this’ll stop in a couple of years.
A: What would stop?
D: I felt it couldn’t go on. That it was a moment, I was being a victim – perhaps that’s not the best word – but I was being a victim of a situation. I had been chosen…
A: Let’s say you were fitting into a certain expectation of the times.
D: Yes, I was in the right place at the right time, but the fact is I really had to start paint. So I started using oil, until I had my first real crisis in ’87, and its name was oil paint. I got into that thing: the canvases wouldn’t dry, the process started to become very complex and I started not just putting paint onto the canvas but taking it off; I spent hours on it building up and scraping down the surfaces of the canvases I was working on and the studio floor was getting increasingly sticky.
A: Did you paint a lot?
D: All day. Particularly from ’85, when I left the bank.
A: With the Biennial? With the invitation from the Biennial?
D: Yes, and I realized I no longer needed to work at anything else.
A: “Como vai você, Geração80” [the exhibition organized at Parque Lage] was in ’84, wasn’t it?
D: Yes, and I thought: I’II put a work in the middle of the building. And I did a Samson knocking down the columns in Parque Lage, which was a way of interacting with the space, an art school. A flat painting done with white and black paint on orange plastic. I think there may have been a bit of red in it.
It’s also Interesting that at that time there was already a group of artists in the marketplace, who were exhibiting.
A: Who? Pizarro?
D: No. Thomas Cohn set up a gallery and with the third exhibition, broke with the group of artists he was supporting. After that he did an exhibition with Leonilson. Together with Léo there was Ciro Cozzolino, Leda Catunda, Sergio Romagnolo and [Hilton] Berredo. They were all in “Como vai você, Geração 80?” already supported by Thomas who put them in a separate room, which I think was a mistake. It was bad for them because they had become gallery artists and as such were shown in a way that was not part of the exhibition proposal. I wasn’t in that group. Thomas didn’t like what I did and in fact I didn’t have much of “what I did”, because alter all I was just starting out as an artist. From “Como vai você?”, I got Into the Biennial. The curator was Sheila Leirner.
A: Did Sheila visit your studio?
D: She must have done. Everyone came, Frederico Morais, Roberto Fontual, Marcos Lontra, Casimiro [Xavier de Mendonça]. João Manuel Satamini set up a gallery in São Paulo, working with Casa 7 and us, me Pizzaro and Venosa. He was very enterprising; he was young and wanted to show and sell art for his generation. But after the Biennial there was a time when I was pretty lost. I thought about work all the time. I was really skating in ’87.
A: But the actual context of the Biennial you were in had something to do with that, there were a lot of good people there, big names. Didn’t the Biennial give you a kind of thrill? What was it like?
D: No, in that aspect I had the typical arrogance of a newcomer who makes sure that these things don’t disturb him. The clearer I was that it was an important time, the more I was dazzled by the situation.
A: You were at the center of the scene weren’t you’? You and Leda. You here, Leda in Sao Paulo, perhaps the most acclaimed by the media.
D: Me and Léo [Leonilson]. What was nice is that I was a good friend of Leo. At the start I saw Léo in the papers, at his first exhibition at Thomas Cohn and Luisa Strina [art galleries]. Material was coming out everywhere, Veja, Istoé. Folha, J.B., like a great artist was arriving. I liked the work, and made friends with him soon after. The first time I saw Léo was at the door of the Thomas Cohn gallery during his first exhibition.
Going back to the relationship with the media and the scene itself, in a way, with the exception of the people I was socializing and working with, I didn’t know and haven’t known many artists. I’m not the kind of artist who goes into art because his parents had an artistic soirée, or whose father is a poet, or a collector, a patron. I’m a long way from that situation. I think, in a way, there could have been a bit of animosity with those people who saw me as an intruder, but I didn’t care much. I thought I was part of a nice group. responsible for art at that time. At the same time I was aware that all that, all that media party seemed very fragile, in fact I was happy and able in a way to not feel insecure with the situation. In the end my biggest judge is myself.
But I hit a crisis in ’87, which mixed together the difficulties I had been facing with permanent migraines caused by paint, oil paint, in particular. The studio was an unhealthy place, completely different from when I was using water and acrylics. Now there was oil paint, which was a poison, and I started getting migraines.
A: And always with a lot of paint, large formats.
D: And working 10, 12 hours a day.
A: Who else was in that studio?
D: It was here on the other side of the road with Pizarro, Ângelo and João Magalhães.
A: And at least you, Pizarro and Ângelo were happening critically and on the scene as a whole.
D: Yes. It was very interesting.
A: Ângelo, the most philosophical.
D: I think in this aspect of skepticism, Ângelo is me, but worse. Because I think people need to delude themselves a bit to do that kind of work, which is work driven by an ideal, you have to be a bit outside the state of consciousness. I spend a lot time here in the studio, in this space. In the old days, that time I’m talking about, I was here even more, but now I’ve got the divorce, the children, an outside world that takes me out of here a little.
A: At that time you just had this.
D: Just this.
A: And the will things to succeed.
D: And a certain diversion, which was great. But there was also an effort and an anguish I didn’t understand very well, because anguish wasn’t the natural state of the artist at that time, particularly in North American art. Anguish was an earlier thing. Bonito Oliva [the Italian critic and curator, responsible for developing the theory of the group known as Transvanguarda], in an interview at the time, asked why artists no longer committed suicide. At the same time I was asking myself who was on the other side of all that, who moved, bought and enjoyed the works we were producing. The more I worked with the gallery. I gradually go to know who was buying those works and it shocked me, but my anguish had nothing to to with that, it was a personal problem. That’s why I’ve always thought the role of the gallery to be very healthy.
A: Which gallery was it?
D: Thomas’s. We’re still friends today, João died, but Thomas is there. I think the role of the gallery is fundamental. I like the degree of isolation it offers me. I also have no problem thinking of the commercial aspect of this work. Commercial in the sense that, I’m doing something and this something will be sold, and because of that I can travel, send my child to a good school, and especially carry on painting. This commercial aspect has nothing to do with the urge that made me start doing it. I think I’d be unhappy doing something else
A: Yes, but you are always going in deeper, and seeing it’s more complex, particularly when you leave the country. Anyhow, it seems to me that since you started to go abroad, take part in exhibitions abroad, you started to notice that there’s a certain expectation of Brazilian art, didn’t you? Something like, let’s see what the Brazilians are doing; who are the Brazilians? But then your work wants to escape this address, which is almost geographical, politically correct. In that sense you notice it’s a very complex world. When did you start to realize this? That it’s sophisticated, that it’s difficult to confront this world of art, that you can’t carry on simply taking bits of Lüpertz, because, in the end it’s something that will soon be found out?
D: I can say that in the ‘80s we still had a more scrutinous, investigative type of curatorship. Soon after, in the ‘90s, the foreign curator coming here, often through a gallery, came already with a more prepared personal project. I was in some exhibitions that supposedly considered Brazilian art, and the feeling I have is that the curators were generous, less prepared for the market situation.
Independent of this, I was more involved with what to do with my painting. I was looking for a relevance. In fact I looked to Lüpertz as I had previously done with Bacon, because they are both artists for whom the image is mediating an idea; an attempt at dealing with mystery, with hidden things that we will die without knowing. I think those artists, Bacon more so, used painting to tell their own story. Before that, to tell you how I was already interested in those issues, I started to make a film with a friend of mine, Salomão, who’s an economist today. It was based on a story by Fernando Pessoa, one of the few prose works, Marinheiro, in which three women are keeping vigil over a fourth. There’s a very beautiful conversation between them, but the atmosphere is a great tension in which nothing happens. Well, we decided to make the film in Super 8 and when we were doing the script, I said, because I had a Chinese vase in my house, “Salomão, we’Il put in an image of that Chinese vase.” And he said, “Why?” And that was the end of the film. We didn’t do it. I wanted to put in an Image of the Chinese vase, but I didn’t know how to explain it. In a way, I already had this desire to say something even before painting, and perhaps when I found it I thought I could do it alone, that in that territory I wouldn’t need to talk to Salomão. Painting is a solitary activity, cinema is complicated. I’d love to be able to make films, but here in my studio the process is much more under my control.
A: And lf you directed it alone you could also put in the vase, but doing it in two…
D: Yes, but here I can practice a lot and throw it away afterwards.
A: It has this quality, there Is a technical base, it’s cheaper, it’s more under your control, more to your scale. It’s not cinema, architecture.
D: And there’s a beautiful thing, I think, that the person makes marks on a surface in the same way someone else did, a long time ago. Deep down, my way of working is similar to that of the shaman there in the caves. And since my problem is something so ancient, this idea of using perennial media is Interesting.
A: And this temporal notion that’s very present in your work also justifies the muted tones, the earth, the black and white, doesn’t it? And also the fact of you stealing images and textures from other surfaces, which also means stealing the time from other things. There’s often a patina colouring, of something ancient, in your work. There are generally no explosive, seductive tones, something more comfortable for the eyes. You don’t offer us a red or an orange.
D: No, no. it’s always muted.
A: Where does that come from? Not just the muted tones but also the monochromatic tendency. Because the monochromatic is a homogenization. Sometimes you use silver, you couldn’t say it’s an ancient thing; nevertheless it a feeling of homogenization.
D: Silver was a period. The silver paintings are almost like a painting of a photograph. It wasn’t enough for me just to represent something. That’s something that became clear to me at the end of the ‘80s. My canvases became the thing itself, the object itself. This is a desire that arose in ’87, ’88. I started to think of the canvas as a record of my presence, or the record of the presence of something. The canvas started to be an active object, not just a space for representation, where you paint something without noticing the material that’s there. I wanted to give that material the relevance of an object. I think that, in chromatic terms, this limits the canvas to the colours of where this canvas comes from. It was when I started printing the canvas.
A: How do you see this business of using printing processes in painting?
D: Oh, that was an accident. I’d been invited to be in a group show in Paris, and a Brazilian exhbition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. There was a parallel exhibition in another space, one of those with no funding. You were given a ticket and carried the work under your arm. I thought about doing really big canvases and bought a roll of fabric. I prepared the canvas on the floor, which was the impregnated floor of my studio, and canvases, becauseI was picking up material from my paintings from the floor.
I was also doing the scenery for a play at the time, which ended up being censored precisely because of the scenery. It was the Shroud of Christ, that is, an image of the Shroud, in fact the negative of it because the Shroud is a cloth on which you can’t see anything, what we know is the negative. I did it like a police photo. Christ’s face and profile, and that’s why the play was censored by the theatre owner. But the idea of the Shroud was related to that print of the floor.
I had a friend, Rubem Breitman, who joked with me saying I was a “grounder”, because these monotypes produced beautiful backgrounds. Those “backgrounds” really brought me problems. This was the start of that more earthy solution, connected to the environment, things that were around. So from ’87, ’88 my problem started to be how to include this impression taken from the ground into my repertoire of painting. I continued working on the two surfaces, and while I was working on one side, something was happening to the other, something was getting stuck to the back. After a while I turned it over. In fact the other day Moacir found one of my paintings that had exactly that characteristic.
A: Moacir dos Anjos [curator of the Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães, de Recife]?
D: That’s right, who also works with Marcantônio Vilaça’s collection [owner of the Fortes & Vilaça gallery in São Paulo, who died 2000]. He called me recently to talk about a picture saying, “There’s something written on it.” I couldn’t remember anything written on the front of the canvas, but he assured me, saying “It’s here.” I said, “Send a photo” and he sent a photo of the work. And then I said, “Look Moacir, the painting’s on the other side.” In other words he sent a photo of the back of the picture.
A: Doesn’t that process also relate to the surrealitsts? Max Ernst with frottage, André Masson painting with sand, and also that story of “seeing something” in the stain, which stimulates us to put the eye to work?
D: Yes. And Max Ernst is in my pantheon…
A: Is he?
D: Yes. I consider him a referential artist. Anyway, one of the artists I like most is Sigmar Polke, and for me, his father is Max Ernst. You know, that diversity of attitudes and even irony, which is something I don’t have so explicitly. But despite there being this surrealist aspect, my paintings had more romantic things in them. Especially because the images were similar to sacred paintings; not that that was the reference exclusively, but deep down there was a kind of aura, something close to religious vestments or mystical atmospheres.
A: Yes. But at the same time there’s an ironic level to this. Ironic in the sense of displacement, because while a metaphysical side comes into the discussion you also give materiality to the painting, transform it into an object. It’s as if you were saying, “This is a discourse, I do this and I do it like this and it has its own life.”
A: Because if it were just making a religious point, it would perhaps go the way of Ross Bleckner with those huge vaults, huge dark surfaces punctuated by lights, Bleckner is definitely more metaphysical than you, because you emphasize matter and objects.
D: Yes, the fact is that while I had the images I dealt with what I thought painting ought to be, I thought about how it should function for people today. For that matter, there was an important time when I mixed up the process: when I made prints of nails to represent… naiIs. In this way the marks, the remains of the rust left by the nails was simultaneously object and image. This passage was important for me to be clearer about how to separate things. But there’s also the fact that I didn’t expect, never expected, painting to have just one reading, when there’s not much room for reverie in it or when there’s an idea that’s so strong that the rest becomes secondary. I always wanted less conclusive results. This time coincided with the start of a period when I had more patience, when I started to stick things to the ground and remove them, when I used the canvas to tell some stories, sometimes using fragmented references from other paintings or bits of objects. All this revolved around the idea of working with remains, with fragments.
A: Yes. They’re your fragments on the ground also, aren’t they? That is, you collect the result and add the remains of your actual process to your Painting.
D: At that time, yes. But the studio had an outdoor area and so l did a picture based on the leaves fallen on the ground. I printed the leaves and then painted over them.
A: And what other artists were you seeing at that time? International, because here in Brazil you were on a lone path, weren’t you?
D: Well, I don’t know. I don’t remember who I was looking at. In Brazil there are some artists I like, whose work is very different from mine. That’s strange. I can really like things l would never do. For example, I really liked Leonilson, particularly at the end, sadly, he got better even after he became sick. I also liked Nelson Leirner, Leda Catunda and Ana Tavares. There weren’t many painters around. In that case it was really better to look abroad. So I looked to Polke, as I’ve said, Kippenberger, Ed Ruscha, and Peter Halley, as painters.
A: And your spokespeople in the critical field? Did you talk to anyone, other artists?
D: No. Hardly at all. I think I’ve never been really concerned with that, and there was also the fact that many people died young. I Iiked Jorginho Guinle a lot. I think if he was here today, he would be important, because he managed to link a completely “damn crazy” way of working with a very strong awareness of painting.
A: He was important to you? He was someone you used to see?
D: Yes, when we were starting out; he did a wonderful exhibition In the Saramenha gallery in ’85. All the pictures were impressive. There was rigor, variety… it was really very good. I also understood that he had something people didn’t accept very much. He was a rich guy and I had no problems with that. He did rich painting too. He used loads of paint and never washed a brush, just threw it away and got another, you know? That irritated people.
A: But you talked with him?
D: A little.
sed in commercial terms.
A: Do you think Marcantônio’s Importance was decisive in that sense?
D: Yes, I think so. He introduced that kind of professionalism here, which has good and bad aspects. That’s something that comes from the United States, from the post-World War II economic boom, the flourishing of art schools where you wouldn’t just study art but would also train to be an artist, which is almost a contradiction.
I think it was Marcantônio. Although Thomas had done amazing work, he is much more individualistic in that aspect. Marcantônio assembled a group around him, a group of critics, curators and artist.
A: And went around the world with an institutional concern as well, very strong in the sense of publicising artists in museums, because…
D: That ensured good media return for him.
A: It brought him good returns because his vision of the process was, let’s say, quite developed, more advanced.
D: Yes. But the thing is that many people from that time died early, which left a hiatus, a communication gap between our generation and the previous one. We suffered a ‘discontinulty’, because of the fact of not referring to people from an earlier period. We didn’t even know what they’d done. I think it was very different in São Paulo, wasn’t it?
A:In what sense? Not knowing about the previous generation?
A: lt was different In São Paulo because Nelson [Leirner], Carlos [Fajardo], Carmela [Gross], Regina [Silveira], and júlio [Plaza], taught at FAAP, or in their studios, which brought them close to those who were emerging. There was that famous time when Sergio Romagnolo arrived In Rio to take part in “Como vai você, Geração 80”, with Leda Catunda, Sergio Niculitchef and Ciro Cozzolino, and reacted against a kind of rejection floating in the air against the older generation — Waltercio [Caldasj, Cildo [Meireles], Tunga etc., who were accused of being very cerebral. He said that no, they were students of those people mentioned, and they were artists they admired. On the other hand, Waltercio, Cildo and Tunga didn’t teach here in Rio and had nowhere they could make contact.
D: That‘s true. In the first place they didn’t teach. The artists from the ‘70s were very limited by circumstances, to start with they had no benefit from a gallery system. The ’80s benefited everyone, previously the critic of those artists were few and very local. There were people of the stature of Ronaldo Brito, but writing in a jounal with limited circulation. [Ronldo Brito was art critic for the weekly “Opinião” ln the seventies].
A: And Paulo Sergio Duarte?
D: Paulo Sergio was in Europe at that time. When I met him I think he was involved with education.
A: But he was at Funarte in the early ’80s.
D: I don’t remember him writing anything in the ’80s. And what we were doing, Ângelo, Pizzarro, Leda and Léo, had nothing to do with Ronaldo Brito`s contribution. I even think there was a degree of disinterest on his part. There was no starting point: sitting and talking. When that doesn’t happen – and it really didn’t happen – it can create a kind of lifelong misunderstanding. I pretty soon kind of moved away from the idea of a close relationship with those people.
A: Because some of them, with the exception of Paulo Sergio, who invited you for the Morcosur Biennial, couldn’t see the sense In what you were doing.
D: There was also the fact that the world didn’t stop at Ipanema. Perhaps, the artist’s eye was directed more outwards than inwards in the ‘80s. lt was easier to have access to information; everything that was going on was almost ‘on line’ in people’ lives. One of the reasons Helio Oiticica was more potent was that he was starting to be seen more abroad from the ’80s. The ideas were expanded and reached people who thought about them. The foreign influence also serves to strengthen things we have here.
A: His retrospective was in the ’90s, 1992 more precisely, and it started to come to life with the show at PS I In New York in 1998. Remember Guy Brett’s article [“HeIio Oiticica: reverie and revolt”], the January ’89 cover of Art in America that came from that PSI exhibition? So you see, Chris Dercon was the curator of PSI at that time and he ended up being one of the co-curators of Helio’s retrospective. Anyway, it started in the Witte de With in Rotterdam, which Dercon took over after leaving PSI. Since then Helio’s reputation has only grown. And of course, when I think of the number of people from the subsequent generations who, thanks to that, found out about Helio, l’m thinking particularly of Ernesto Neto, who is connected with the discussion of the “penetrable”. Yourselves, before Neto, are outside this revisiting of earlier generations.
D: That’s true. It was perhaps Frederico de Morais who dld the biggest review of the ’80. He became a reference for everyone because he wrote regularly in his weekly newspaper column. Despite having said the vocation of Brazillian art was construction, he was interested in what was going on.
A: Oh, he was very attentive, he praised you lot, actually stating that what went before was rubbish. Although he always had a strong relation with Cildo Meireles, he’d had enough of cerebralism. It’s clear his target was Waltercio Caldas and the “hermetic and excessively intellectual” artists of the ’70s [“Gute nacht herr Baselitz ou Helio Oiticica onde está você” catalogue for the “Como vai você, geração 80?” show]. The collateral effect of this position, on the other hand, was to force all of you into the mould of the painting/pleasure binomial, which is a simplified view. Well, who knows if it wasn’t really like that in the mid ‘80s?
D: In fact you could classify most of them like that. As in any generational group, there are more lows than highs. Whatever, this position of Frederico and the media around him forged that simplified impression of Brazil in the ’80s. But l think the problem is that, in contrast to what happened in all other periods, this generation hasn’t produced an author who’s written about it.
And what came afterwards, in the ‘90s came in the form of that articulation I was describing before between dealers, critics, curators and artists. The fact is the foreign market expanded too much because it started to consume the periphery. And that’s why, for example, there was a time when there was a strange interest in Australian Aboriginal art. Then it was Latin American Art and, more recently, Asian art.
The problem is the times are different. It’s as if art today had to respond more directly to the consumer. In this way I think it’s lost a little of its autonomy. Today there’s a very inflated art structure, very big throughout the world, with an infinite number of artists looking for a place in the sun. This result in a very strong standardization and determination of what can and can’t be done. It’s even worse if you are an artist on the periphery. In this sense, Cildo Meireles is a beautiful exception: his work manages to leave and return here with prestige.
A: As evidence of that we should remember that his book, published by Cosac & Naify, is a translated version of the Phaidon book. In other words, there are hardly any books about Cildo made in Brazil. The best book on him was made abroad.
D: And I think he’s someone whose work is the least classifiable. His territory is more personal. That’s why I think he’s an exception. In general terms art today is more a big business.
A: Perhaps it’s just a problem of scale.
D: I don’t know.
A: You just have to see, for example, how Baxandall – an interesting art historian -discusses artists’ contracts in the Renaissance. Michelangelo, to pink just one name, knew how to make contracts like nobody. He calculated everything, from the paint to what he was spending on assistants. It’s the same with all of them. Being a court painter, like Velasquez, Rubens and Goya, was a big business; they were completely committed to the courts they served, which didn’t prevent them from being great artists. Perhaps scale is the problem today, a scale that is tremendous.
But it seems to me that there are lot of people doing good work.
D: Of course. There are. But l think in the period of royalty, the court painters, who were few, were very out of the ordinary in how they transgressed, saying things between the lines. The quality of a Caravaggio was in how he spoke to the public while at the same time tricking the church.
A: It’s true, they really tricked them. Velazquez painting himself painting the royal family is a lovely device!
D: I have the feeling that today the excess of money ends up imposing itself on the artists, making them act mimetically, less reflectively. Perhaps it’s important to cultivate greater isolation. In this dynamic there are a lot of people that confuse, distract you.
A: How? How does It confuse? How does lots of people trying to do art disturb you? Considering that a lot of people are not doing things of quality, are mistaken, how does that disturb you?
D: There are several ways of approaching this. Perhaps my viewpoint is a little romantic. But it’s as if art has shifted its issues to things that are not intrinsic to It. As if the discourse of art has shifted to sociological, anthropological problems, almost like the exhibition and display of social banners, group situations…
A: I see this deviation in some new Groups that develop tactics of alternative political action, not to mention when they go down the route of social activity.
D: Yes, that happens with some groups and artists. Those issues take on relevance due to an external need that demands a position from art, that it should say something that in principle isn’t its field.
A: Anyway, coming back to your work, you continue, despite the circumstances, market pressure etc., faithful and coherent in your precepts. One that interest me most is the way you articulate the image with the physicality of the canvas. lt’s a theft, isn’t it really? Because if you think of the idea of the transfer, the idea of the monotype, as a kind of theft: you plunder a surface through your work and the painting is a mediation of that plunder. It’s an absence that’s there from the vestiges. This is a curious articulation that you establish between the picture space I’m in front of and the space referred to, which I’m not in front of.
That’s on one side. On the other side there’s your ability to establish syntaxes between the most varied things, because in fact you’ve established a connection between real space and the other space that’s referred to. And you go through life doing that. For example, when you make canvases from impressions taken from the floor in a space that isn’t your studio. Canvases you complete here in your studio. The results are simultaneously vestiges, vaguer allusions to more explicit representations of three spaces. The same happens when, in your studio and also using material acquired outside, you make reproductions of spaces in canvases from the history of art. What we have is a great ability for articulation. In view of this I’d conclude that you react to the annoyance of the market by proposing the artist as someone who constructs syntaxes. So, I’d like you to talk a little about that.
How does this operation work? I can see an operation close to Sigmar Polke in this. The raw material he uses, the varied fragments of the imagery system, in his work, as in yours, there’s an attempt to adjust, establish a juncture between codes that are very different. And speaking of code, it’s metalanguage. When did this start for you? You said here, “once I noticed that the canvas I lifted from the ground told another story”. Did this then become the raw material with which you would start to make your pictures, overlapping other things?
D: Describing this passage better, coming back to what I said before, when I pulled that thing from the ground. I saw my paints that had been accumulating on it at that time. I noticed that I was talking about a space, of absences, talking about painting and how painting could be treated at that time.
Today I see that I deal with some characters; it’s my farm, you know? I have a farm with my cattle. Each time I take a photograph of that space they’re in a different arrangement. It’s my representative group. I’ve got those things bobbing around in my mind, but I can’t really control which way it’s pointing.
When my son was born in ’92. I was living in New York. I thought: now I’m going to have a son, I can’t spend three months in the studio for struggling to finish a work anymore. I remember it was winter and we were travelling in the car and I thought, I’m going to formalize my work, textually define for myself what my work is. So, I arrived at something I called Shroud-Memory. And from then on I started to plan things. I did a specific work, but wound up not showing it. It’s a beautiful work that I really didn’t make by hand, a work about painting and memory, which expands the limits of the definition of language. But I noticed that from the moment I had things so well prepared, I started to run the risk of losing others, of no longer discovering the things that happen during the process. That’s why I moved away from that and kept that work.
Years later I started doing those collages with impressions In New York. I put the fabric over the walls of the studio, fabric with the impression of the floor of a place In Brooklyn. As they had different areas, I started juxtaposing them to suggest images. Well, Paulo Herkenhoff came to the studio and saw two or three works showing museum spaces and I said, “Paulo, I don’t know lf these fabrics should just represent the spaces they come from.” And he said, “Well, I think you’ve got to, because if not you’d be throwing this work down the drain,” that’s more or less what he said; it was something “very light”. Even so, I decided no, I wouldn’t only represent the places the impressions came from. Because as soon as I fixed that work to a place it would lose something.
Later I did represent some spaces with the actual fabric from those spaces, as I also used the old carpet from the museum [MAC Niterói], and put it on the actual wall of the museum. At the other extreme, I represented spaces that I only saw reproduced publications. To sum up, I worked with those collages in several ways. But when I spoke with Paulo, the sensation of inconsistency was very strong. Although it was a relevant comment, I was strongly resistant to it. What swung my decision was the fact that I am also an observer of that working process.
What I think’s happening now with my return to Brazil is that I’m going back to a more organic way of working. The structuring I developed in recent years, particularly on living abroad, is present, but I’ve also gone back to sitting around in the studio. The structure is more malleable.
A: Before continuing to comment on your recent work I’d like to know about when there’s a cut, a modification in the work. There’s that moment when the canvas is lifted from the ground, carrying remains. But there’s a time, I don’t know if it’s the same, when you were in the 1989 São Paulo Biennial, when you had enormous canvases. And after that, there are the simple canvases, canvases you put objects on top of, to remove them or not. That’s the case with the nails and other assorted objects as well. How did it come about that you didn’t play so much with the chance element of the stains? Of you actually pressing and creating incisions in the work that are not images that come by chance or by intermediation of an object you stick on it?
D: I dont’t see any break. As time passed and I added some procedures that I thought were related to this perspective of working with fragments or records of space. There isn’t a completely defined plan about, what goes ln or what doesn’t. I’m testing the limits, discovering sometimes, that some things were a bit outside what I wanted. In the beginning it was more unstable, but as l’m doing things the territory becomes clearer to me.
ln the 89 Biennial, I stuck and unstuck the picture from the floor and then worked; l painted images – I still used a brush – but I didn’t use much colour: It was almost a drawing with a brush. After the Biennial I continued doing that. Subsequently, there was the Venice Biennial in 1990, when I did the same thing l’d done in São Paulo except on a much bigger scale. In ’92 l did some works with little nails – paintings that were important for me. That was when I started to use the word shroud. The little nail worked very well within that idea. The subject being depicted with it’s own material. I also did a series of paintings of boomerang, which is a moment of synthesis l wanted: a canvas telling a story, the path of a boomerang and at the same time carrying the story of oxidation, of the time of the oxidation of the little nail, leaving the remains on the canvas to form the image of a path. It’s another story of time, the one the boomerang describes while returning to close the circuit where it started. It’s also a way of seeing painting, art in general or even the life cycle; in the end, a canvas with several levels of reading where none predominates.
That was when l started using iron oxide. I started making moulds of iron oxide with polyurethane resin. The moulds broke and became fragments that in a way were also remains from my studio, which l put on another canvas. At that time the impression of the floor of the space took second place. But there wasn’t a very strong break.
A: But there is a change of stress, of focus!
D: I think that as time passes and I focus more, the story is becoming clearer for me, with less noise. This is not work that wants the precision of absolute control. What my work proposes is precisely not knowing all the stages.
A: I sense that you’ve started to work with more awareness of the problem of language. The ideia of you bringing in things from within the actual studio is to link different times in the same painting. When you tell that story about the nail, your work starts to propose a synthesis, an articulation between distinct language systems. I think the focus has shifted a bit, the discussion doesn’t seem so much about time to me, but more a meditation upon the different systems of representation available today.
D: I think this is one of the procedures of painting today, that is, using systems of representations and variable notations of ideas, and also appropriating models of representation that are not from high culture, but from other families of visual expression. Today you can take things both from comic books or sign drawing, everything can go into painting.
A: All rigth, but wasn’t it like that with modern painting, at least partially?
D: Yes. However, the visual systems available in modernism were more limited. But from the start I established that my problem would be mediated by painting, and therefore painting would have to be manifested in a critical way. I wasn’t interested in something passive. In just representation. I see painting as a surface not completely smooth, but as a surface with a bit of adherence, a bit of aggression. It was all there, but there was a disturbance. Whenever I found a way of doing things, I would break with it, after a while. It was an attempt at telling the same story, but changing everything, characters, form.
I don’t remember when I decided to do the boomerang with the little nails, but when it was finished it was clear that it was very close to the ideal for me in a way. In another canvas from the same period, “O beijo do elo perdido” (The kiss of the missing link) which has a completely different arrangement, I also got the same feeling, except that instead of the nail on the surface it was the title that guaranteed this result of layers, of events, of history within it.
A: That’s interesting. The title always gives a narrative, it fixes a theme to the work. Because I can think that a boomerang describes a route, a route you don’t have saved, virtually, in the memory, because its path doesn’t leave a trail. However, what you do is a schema, a representation which includes a range of materiality, because it’s a rusty nail. It’s as if you were talking a mechanical drawing, which is an idealized plan, a model of something that will happen, and giving flesh, thickness to what is schematic. “O beijo do elo perdido”, comes close to this because what hou have there is infinity, an eight on its side; less than a schema, a mathematical notation, abstract, but which is embodied in an image. There’s a lot of this in your painting, it always has weight, a crisp, rippled, textured, tense surface and this tension has generally been, in the last fifteen years, an amalgam of different systems of notation, of different languages.
D: The works that I think most represent what interests me, could be about moments in life that are discarded, or rather are representation of the least representable things possible. Almost like something that doesn’t exist, a time without events. That’s the most mysterious thing for me. Whenever you remember something you associate it with a series of facts, yet many things you think of are in a state of suspension, of discontinuity; a space where things happen, but whose time is difficult to pin down, as if there were nothing inside it, just
a sensation. I could call that my subject. When you describe on of my works, or when I describe it to myself, when I see what I’ve done in a book. I think, “That’s my subject”. But if I write about it and read it the morning before going to the studio, it may not help me at all. At the start it was a bit difficult for me to accept the idea of something with no apparent rigour, especially in a world where everyone spends all their time explaning why that is or isn’t relevant.
A: That’s strange, it’s not that you don’t think before doing something, but, you think a lot after doing it; you look at it and think. “Look what I did.”
D: People say: “Oh, you experiment with the ground.” or “You work with dance,” but the fact ls that when I decide I’m going to do it, I’m in control of the process. I mean to say that, while I’m doing it, I’m also measuring.
A: Measuring, or confirming?
D: Checking, measuring. Although these days, since I went to New York, I’ve changed my approach a bit: I’ve started to work in series.
A: Before going on to New York, which was a particularly Important time, I’d like to bring in my question about your relations with the art world, do you feel very alone? ls your work as an artist isolated? I’d also like to know if you notice people whose poetics have a point of contact with your path.
D: No. Here in Brazil, no.
A: And how do you sense the reception of your work here in Brazil? Is it better on the part of the critics?
D: I don’t know why, but at times l get the feeling, perhaps through being in the midst of the story, that I’m the worst observer of this. Whatever it is, I have the feeling that my work isn’t seen very much.
A: You think you’re not seen!! You are one of the best known, if not the best known of your generation. Maybe your work is not well seen, well analyzed, but shown?
D: Well it’s not widely seen. Because I do one exhibition a year, every other year in São Paulo, every other year in Rio. Exhibitions in museums are even less frequent. The public that goes to those exhibitions is always very small. There are works that go the gallery. There are works I’d like to see again, I’d like them to be somewhere accessible, in a museum. I mean, I think they’re little seen and I also think that the artist, me, at least now, I’m always looking forward. In this way I’m inclined to discard some earlier periods. And this doesn’t happen for the public. I go to the Pinacoteca in São Paulo and find one of my works from ’89. I look at that picture again. I like it. But I’d like there to a picture from now as well, to show what’s happening now. I have the feeling that there are few Brazilian artists whose current work is known by the public. I’m talking about the specialist public, because the more generic public, well…
A: The public consumes the name.
D: I think few people see what I do, even the art specialists.
A: The move to New York expanded your repertoire a lot. You could see things more regularly, exhibitions, shows, even lectures; follow the artistic life more. What was that like? Did you gain anything, did it help to mature your positions?
D: I had more of a family life in New York.
A: But you saw lots of exhibitions, many more than you would have seen here didn’t you?
D: You know it’s strange, when you go to live somewhere you miss more than when you go there to visit. And I had already been going there a few times a year.
A: I see.
D: I miss exhibitions In Rio, 0for example, because I delay going and then one day they’re over. When I used to go to New York, which started after met my ex-wife, I saw almost all the Whitney Biennials, all the retrospectives at Moma, the Guggenheim etc. I go there almost every month, I do the round of galleries. But when I moved there, my meetings with artists became more restricted. I didn’t have that custom here in Brazil. Going out and meeting, looking for people involved in the scene. I mean, there are things that happen naturally, friends and so on. And in New York it’s networking, people meet to move their careers along.
A: But didn’t you join in with that?
D: No. After six months in New York I realized haw isolated I was. I had a huge studio were I worked and at the end of the day I went home. On the way I’d buy a bottle of wine or something in the market. And the next day I’d go back. When I came back to dividing my time between Rio and there, I saw that my territory is really here. My territory on several levels. Emotional, work and other interests. I like New York a lot, I like spending time there, and working as well, but this is my place. l think an artist has to have a place.
A: Say a litle about change in the sense of the works starting to be made in series. I can say the “Piano Factory” series is still feeding into work today, unfolding into a sub-series group. This is apparently very different from before, when you made small families of paintings. Now the volume is much greater. Has it to do with a more professional approach, knowing how to work an idea better, or are they needs that go together? What is it exactly?
D: Well, when I went to live there I had to change my way of working. Not that I decided that on the plane. On the plane it was a question of wondering what was going to happen to me. Here in Rio I’d arrive at the studio at 10.00, 10.30 in the morning, I’d leave at 7.00 in the evening, and there were days when I did nothing. How could I have that me there? And l said to my wife. “we’ll be back in three months because I won’t be able to live, in New York.” We went to live there for family reasons. I had no work project.
Talking specifically about the work, it happened that before going there I was in one of those periods when you don’t understand what’s going on. I started doing silver canvases between ’98 and 2000. They were polyptychs. I adopted a standard size of 1.10 x 1.10cm. I worked on each one separately and then brought them together. That was something that took a lot of time. At that time, a little like today, I couldn’t place those works within my general project. I didn’t understand very well what was happening. I thought of it as a little diversion from the main thing.
Those silver canvases came right before I left for New York. When I arrived there I carried on with them, but the first thing l did was hang some very beautiful, very big impressions I’d done of a floor in a friend’s studio in Brooklyn the previous summer on the wall of my studio, which was very big. I’d done them and kept them in a bag. Then when I arrived I opened the bag and put them on the wall. At the same time I continued with my silver works. After a while, one day at an airport, I thought about doing colleges with those fabric instead of using them as a base for painting.
A: You told me you hadn’t thought of using them when a friend said, “But this is already a work.”
D: It was Robert Kelly, an American painter who`s a friend of mine. I put that fabric on the walls and he said, “It’s ready” I said. “lt’s ready for you.” l’m baroque. I can’t do that. It doesn’t work for me. He said, “You really are very baroque. That’s finished for me.” It’s like the conversation with Paulo Herkenhoff. I think I have a little resistance to limiting my work to just one shot, it’s such a decisive statement.
A: Almost a “ready-made” In fact.
D: There were time when I considered just one fabric with the impression as a finished work. But that was a specific situation. That fabric had an event, an accident that created a context for the image a narrative.
But that was the story in New York, I put my impressions on the wall and one day at an airport I thought I should make images with them. I found an assistant who was a painter and we developed this tecnique for juxtaposing the fabric, gluing it onto another support. We spent some time choosing the glue, deciding how to cut the fabric. While that was happening I thought about what to represent. The first images were representations of my space, of museum spaces and spaces represented in other paintings. Over time I made distinct groups of paintings. The raw for all this was impressions from assorted floors. Thanks to building in wood, the USA is very good for that. For example, I did a factory in Connecticut, a big factory; I stayed there a few days alone, and it was very good, in fact that’s one of the nicest stages of the work.
A: Because it’s calming?
D: I think it’s like you are sowing and gathering. I take those huge things – the fabric and the floors -over which I have a degree of control. I know that, depending on the quantities, I will take more or less material from the floor. There’s another part, like the temperature of the environment, which I have no control over. As I don’t have exact measurements of water and glue, there are times when this combines with the temperature and the dryness of the floor, the age of the floor and unexpected thing appear. After Connecticut I did some spaces in the Bronx. At that time I was very interested in the idea of representing art spaces with a surface made from another space.
A: It’s a development of the idea of representing a nail with the nail itself.
D: There are many stories in the impression of a floor animals, and people walking over it. There’s a space I do here in Lapa that was used for some job that used paint, the floor was saturated with that paint. Paint which soaked into my canvases as well. So there’s a colour coming to me, into my surface and I’ve got to deal with that.
A: It occurs to me that every space has a life. Like Yves Klein’s white work “The Void”, in which he left the gallery painted white for the vibration of the people to impregnate the space. The whole environment, whatever it may be, is infected by the various presence that have moved through it, something always remains. Your work recovers that dimension, it leans towards something that’s sleeping, there’s a kind of elevation of things disappeared.
D: I made one work that I’ve never shown, the one I mentioned after my definition of “Shroud-Memory”. They are sheets from a hospital and a motel. I gave a load of new sheets to the Intensive Care Centre at the Cancer Hospital, and those sheets came back to me at the end of the lives. I did the same with the motel. Each sheet is impregnated with presences.
A: You‘ve never shown that work? And why not?
D: Never. Because when I did it, it seemed very distant from what I was doing in painting at the time. I went to the hospital and the motel. I had to find someone to help me because at the time. I went to the hospital and the motel. I had to find someone to help me because it was really difficult to convince the motel owner. I gave sheets without logos and so lots were lost. I made two donations to the hospital. I said to Ivo Mesquita (currently curator of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo) at the time. “This has nothing to do with what I do.” It was in the early ‘90s. And Ivo said, “Do it and you’ll see later.” So Marcantônio and I looked for somewhere to show it, but we didn’t find anywhere and I never showed it. I later showed three sheets at a biennial in England (Liverpool), but I’ve never shown the work.
A: How many sheets are there?
D: I can’ remember, but I did enough to cover a very big surface.
A: It’s strange that you said it had nothing to do with your work. Saying this with 10 years of career, if that, is banking on an Intuitive approach, since you didn’t know beforehand what you were going to do. ln a way, what you think of doing is already an extension of the work.
D: Perhaps it’s insecurity, a defense, which I also saw when I taught and people would come with the only three pictures they’d done in their lives saying, “because my work…”.
A: Yes, because as you found out later, that was your work.
D: Coming back to the Piano Factory, those paintings don`t depict the space, they are the actual space.
A: Uninhabited spaces, yet in a way inhabited by the spectator who enters them.
D: Like the work of Caspar David Freidrich which often has a spectator inside the canvas, or the works of Michelangelo Pistoletto, who has a mirror and the observer, someone with his back to you. I like to think of the presence of the observer.
A: Is that why you’ve chosen a large scale?
D: On those canvases, yes.
A: Who do you like who works on a large scale?
D: Polke, almost all the contemporary artists. [Anselm] Kiefer.
A: Was Kiefer important for you?
D: Not in the way people think. The artist who most interests me is Polke, the process of making his work is impressive. I think of it as something man-made only because his hand is very present. I don’t know how he manages to keep the intensity.
A: Is process something you’ve always been interested in?
A: Nelson Leirner says that as he is 70 years old he does things sitting in a chair, if he were a young artist he would make installations. Your works require a very big physical effort. Do you get very tired?
D: I can’t carry those wooden panels any more, but I used to risk injuring myself in the studio. I have injured myself.
A: What’s a good working day for you, a productive day? What’s the routine?
D: ln the past I felt good when I finished a picture. Well, there were two moments, because it’s only the next day that you check if it’s really finished. A good day today is not just when I finish a work, but also when I find a solution, a solution in every sense, or also when I have a good idea. It’s strange for me to talk about “when I have a good idea”, but I think most works are forged in a few moments. Saint-Clair Cemin calls it revelation. And I think those are the moments. I don’t use the idea of inspiration, I think it’s a bit tacky, it seems you’ve got something and other people haven’t. I think that works more for a footballer than for an artist. There are moments of synthesis when you have a notion of what you want. I feel there are some moments that are decisive, like when I decided to do those collages, like then I really decided to do the sheets. But I don’t know when I chose the title for “O beijo do elo perdido” or decided to draw the boomerang. There’s the moment and there’s also the memory of the moment, which is another story. But I can say excellent things don’t happen every day. And now working in a team is a situation that’s a bit different too, I often have to be keeping them occupied, or getting them to bring me different things, sometimes something happens, not very often, from another hand doing it, something unexpected, and that’s interesting sometimes.
A: But the work, Iet’s say, the execution is one thing, and the “creation” is another, the development, of the projects you develop in a notebook. How does that work?
D: But creation happens during the process. Choices that are fundamental. I remember that in New York, one of the first canvases was very big, around 3 x 2 metres. The whole problem was a little 10 cm x 10 cm door in the middle of the work. I spent a long time getting the door right because all the rest would only work if that had a certain solution. I think that today I’m partly going back to the process I used when I was working in Brazil. It’s as if I’m combining two ways of working, the way I worked before, which was more intuitive, a process more of assault, and the way I worked in the US, which was something more planned before starting to carrying it out.
A: But is this planning more notebook or computer?
D: Unfortunately, it’s more computer these days. Previously no, there was a lot of drawing. I still make drawings on paper, but the computer is very close to a final thing. I manipulate the fabric that I’ve got in my computer, and thanks to that I can produce something very close to what’s going to be made. It’s different kind of note taking.
A: And it comes out more planned. Do you think that geometry, because the cuts you’re making almost seem to have been done by laser by a machine, is improved by using the resource of the computer?
D: ln fact it’s strange because they’re all are done by hand. No matter how much the project comes from the computer, the passage from the computer to the canvas is done by hand, there’s no mechanical process. I make the mask and cut by hand. The computer is more to define the compositions.
A: But today there are a lot more canvases coming out, and does this happen because you have a team, the process is quicker, more dynamic than before?
D: It was more dynamic two years ago. The canvases were much simple; because now there are many more cuts and cutouts.
A: How long did it take you to do the work on the MAMAM catalogue cover? What’s the name of that work?
D: “Obra”. It took a long time because its execution was much more complicated. It was an image inspired by a work in the 2004 Biennial…
A: By Thiago Honório.
D: I divided It into three layers, three surfaces, the wood in the background, in the middle ground and more towards the front. I spent a month doing that canvas.
A: With a team?
D: Yes, because without a team it would he another story. And if I went to work in New York l wouldn’t be able to have three assistants working with me.
A: And so you left one of the canvases to do here?
D: I’m doing it here.
A: It’s become a production line on several fronts.
D: It’s changing. The process is becoming more fun. I’m coming out of a procedure I controlled well, with few challenges. Not that it was boring doing that. It’s good to plan something you like and then do it. But I like the idea of arriving at something that I haven’t thought of beforehand.
A: I recently heard a comment by an excellent art historian, jorge Coli, who said that every art historian needs a big table. I can see you also enjoy youself with that. You take an image from Thiago Honório, go to a Piero della Francesca, joining, sticking, letting things come out. Your studio is nothing more than a big table on which you include the canvases you’re preparing.
D: As I say, I love images. I like books. The first real picture I saw was when I was little more than twenty, when I managed to travel.
A: Where did you go?
A: Just over 20, just after you left university?
D: 25, shortly after I’d left and managed to get some money together I went to see the museums.
A: Which was the first museum, the first impact?
D: I think it was in Paris, it was the Beaubourg. I started with contemporary art. Then I went to the Louvre, but the Louvre is a difficult museum. Before you get to the subject you’ve already seen lots of mummies, lots of things you weren’t looking for. But the strange thing is I had the impression of not being very surprised. Of course the original is another story, but often there’s a certain deception. I live my whole life with reproductions. In that sense the original that most impressed me was Michelangelo’s David in Florence.
A: The thing I most admired, that most surprised me when I started going to museums was the scale of the works, either because it was much smaller than I imagined or because it was much bigger. That’s the big problem with reproduction, the book flattens it, everything becomes the same size and all the paintings, at least until very recently, were printed on glossy couché paper, indistinctly coated with gloss varnish.
D: And then there’s the matter of restoration: I saw Michelangelo’s Holy Family shortly after the restoration, and it didn’t match the image I had of it. The restoration turned it into a brightly coloured work, while the image I had was something much darker. But the scale that deceived me was obviously the Mona Lisa, and I think it‘s interesting that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was a much bigger canvas than I’d imagined.
A: Getting away a bit from painting, what works – films, books etc. – were you
D: There weren’t many revelations. I was born into a fairly un-artistic home… Although my mother drew and my father was very creative, there was no possibility of my thinking of becoming an artist. They didn’t go to those things, museums, exhibitions. They didn’t talk about art at home. There were many books, which my grandfather had left. My father liked buying encyclopaedias, which was interesting. When I was very small, l wanted to make an encyclopaedia. I even started. My brother was my partner, but he didn’t like the hard work and gave up. But I was born into that period when a difficult political tide was affecting people. I was a bit young to be involved with any political movement, but I wasn’t too young to see what was going on.
A: That was here In Rio?
D: In Rio. We lived two years in Sao Paulo, because Panair do Brasil closed. My father was a pillot for Panair, and went to work for VASP. I only lived two years In São Paulo, and my life was playing ball in the street, that sort of thing. After I came to Rio, I went to university and started to have a greater feeling of freedom. One of the important moments was discovering Robert Crumb.
A: Do you remember where you discovered him?
D: In a bookshop here…
A: So it was a book of his.
D: A book of Robert Crumb. It was one of his first things published in Brazil. It was at the end of the 60s. I had nothing to do with what he did, unless perhaps a little anguish, something that interested me. Now, cinema… I don’t remember any key film, although there must have been some. At university drawing was an instrument of expression for me. l did it and kept it in a drawer. Something more or less intuitive. Like my mother did.
A: And did you do that for the university magazine?
D: I drew a few things for Cruzeiro. I did some caricatures for Pasquim.
D: Yes, a long time ago. Some caricatures came out. I haven’t got them anymore. Then I did some economic-panorama illustrations for Globo. At university I did some caricatures for Casseta Popular, which started there on the campus.
A: But was it already called Casseta Popular?
D: Yes, It started out with that name. Today they’re the guys in Casseta e Planeta, 3 or 4 were engineers, and we did the University paper. It was fun. But I didn’t feel myself to be a legitimate humorist. l would also sometimes go with my friends from Posto 6 to MAM, and I even remember an exhibition with works by Helio Oiticica, with installations, nests etc. But we weren’t concerned with the exhibition. We smoked dope and stayed inside enjoying ourselves.
A: How different that is from how we attend museums today, isn’t it? In the 9professional world of artists, don’t people pose a lot as artists?
D: They do. There’s tremendous competition. And great insecurity. I didn’t pay much attention at first. I had a kind of defense, an arrogance. Then I saw that that wasn’t helping me much. I resolved to try being more diplomatic. And now I prefer not to worry much about it. If I want to go out with my artist friend, I’m going to go out with him because he’s an interesting person. I’m a bit lazy about networking. So sometimes I prefer to go out with my economist friend, because… sometimes the conversations are much more interesting. According to Louise Bourgeois, rather than discussing the work, artists are more interested in the other person’s technique.
A: How’s that?
D: It’s funny, I have a friend in New York who hides the technique he uses. The second time I asked him something about how he did it I noticed it wasn’t appropriate. There’s a kind of almost industrial concern with the work. I don’t have that. If I see someone influenced by my work, I even feel a bit worried about them, how it’ll develop from there. However, it’s difficult to start without being Influenced by someone.
A: Not everyone manages to escape the influence, ending up being under its impact. And I think the plurality of options you have today, which Is very different from the modern period, hasn’t simplified things, it’s complicated them.
D: The modern period gave a kind of false protection.
A: Yes, ln a way it offered a safety net, working within a much better-defined field.
D: I also think that what brought people together in the ‘80s was the diversity of solutions that emerged from a reaction against a familiar, worn-out language. The way Leda and Leonilson worked demonstrated a personal approach, separate from each othe.
A: In relation to the recent works, I’d like to return to MAC Niterói. Because from the technical point of view, the reasoning, it’s about silhouette. It’s where you carry forward the idea of the silhouette, of working with the negative of a shape. On the other hand in the field of the image, with those birds, it’s quite different.
D: When they proposed the MAC exhibition I looked at that blue carpet covering the whole floor of the museum and said, “Look, when that carpet comes up, give me a call.” The idea was to represent the museum with that carpet on its actual walls. But the problem became how to do that with a carpet so homogenized and blue. It was an interesting conflict, I had to invent an image based on that material I had. MAC is a UFO landing in one of the most beautiful places in Rio.
A: But it’s also beautiful.
D: I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t like it, I thought it badly finished. After using it, after hanging my exhibition, lying on that beach — by the way that’s a nice idea of the beach that Nelson Leiner used for his exhibition – I saw that it was really nice. A bird flew in that space, a bird common to the region, called “trinta-réis”. So I took the MAC carpet and cut out a flock of those birds. The carpet became the sky and the bird was the actual wall of the museum.
A: It’s a specific site, understanding specific not just as a space, the environment where the painting is, but the actual site of the museum, the point it was built on, I mean, the region is incoporated into the problem. I’d also like to return to a point we haven’t discussed yet, which is your painting about Whistler’s mother. The treatment you gave her refers to the idea that every work of art, in being removed from its contexts, is converted into a text closed upon itself, a text without the original context. That’s the impression I get from those strong images you use. It’s what happened with the series about Whistler’s mother, which underwent re-readings, treatments, disappearing, becoming an increasingly thick silhouette, until turning into something that one no longer knows what it is.
D: You know, the first time I saw the image of Whistle’s was in an animated cartoon.
A: No! Really!?
D: No, no it wasn’t quite like that, the first time was in a black and white encyclopaedia called “Tesouro de Juventude”.
A: I looked at that a lot.
D: Then I saw it in an animated cartoon. Some mice go into a room and there’s that austere monolithic thing, which is Whistle’s mother, who lifts her skirt and runs out of the room.
A: And it also can’t help being funny, how a thing can be removed from its contexts, from its pomp, its seriousness. Removed and ridiculed.
D: On the other hand, it retains a quality for me, an internal force able to determine a kind of timelessness. It has something of black granite from which emerges a head that’s not looking at you. It’s distressing to see that. What kind of mother is that?
D: But that’s what interests me. And I think the animated cartoon deals with this as well. It takes that strange mother and humanizes her. I mean, perhaps that was my desire in using the image of Whistler’s mother. Work with the quality the image has, extend it into the present. After all, as you say, the final work in my series is distant from the original. The mother has gone.
A: You mostly tell stories from title. The other day I read a very strong statement by Carlos Fajardo, who, besides being an import artist, has taught dozens of artists, and according to him there is no more space today for the narrative. That’s for him, naturally. His work has almost never dealt with that. But with that statement of his there exist the most diverse positions. Especially because there’s a huge amount of works by artists who deal with this and do it well. How do you see this? Does it disturb you, considering what you do? Telling stories is, after all, for many people the field of literature, it’s like moving away from the strict field of painting, of the visual arts.
D: I think that’s a risky statement. I’ve never seen so much narrative in art as today, a desire to create a universality based on personal things. Narrative structures are very present. Almost too much. Video and installations have that aspect very strongly. Obviously they are non-linear, inconclusive narratives.
That’s a kind of attitude that’s very impregnated with the self-reference of modern thinking, I don’t worry about that. Because if you look at painting around the world, especially in Europe, everything’s happening. That view concurs with an evolutionary understanding of history.
A: It teleological. As if art were converging on a single point.
D: But that strategy has run out. And you still wake up in the middle of the night. And there’s no modernism to prevent you from expressing yourself.
A: You still wake up in the middle of the night. That could be a title for an exhibition couldn’t it? It’s a personal slogan.
D: “Waking up in the middle of the night.”Back